Open data for a more transparent government?

Raisa Serafica
While the evidence is still lacking, open data initiatives provide promises of greater government transparency and accountability.

CONSEQUENCES. According to Hanif Rahemtulla of the World Bank, the lack of government accountability and transparency leads to consequences like the public uproar against the pork barrel scam. Photo by Raisa Serafica/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Will Open Data initiatives make government offices in the country more transparent?

This was the question raised at one of the breakout sessions during the second day of the Good Governance Summit on Thursday, January 16 at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC). The summit also marked the formal launch of the government’s Open Data website. 

According to World Wide Web Foundation’s Andreas Pawelke, the evidence is still lacking but open data provides promises of effective and efficient government, innovation and economic growth, and transparency and accountability. 

The exposes of corruption and abuse of public funds in 2013 has heightened calls by civil society for greater government transparency and accountability. (READ: Pork tales: A story of corruption

The launch of that Open Data website is being touted as the Aquino government’s commitment to address concerns on public governance and accountability. (Read: New in gov’t: Open data, cashless purchases and DILG introduces “seal of good local governance”)

Data visualization 

The concept of “open data” refers to the idea that has been gaining support over recent years to make certain types of data, particularly those related to governance, open for anyone who wants to “use, reuse and redistribute it.” 

The recent Open Data initiative of the government consolidates 650 datasets coming from different national agencies. These datasets are now available online for public use and downloading via “open formats” such as comma separated values or spreadsheets. 

Through the website, users may search for specific datasets and select the format of the information to be downloaded. 

Budget secretary Butch Abad said that the open data initiative is their “way of keeping pace not only with our own momentum for reform, but also with a citizenry that’s much more interested and deeply engaged in our drive for improved governance.” 

One of the features of the page is the category on infographics. 

According to Hanif Rahemtulla of the World Bank, beyond making dense raw data available, there is also need for making data meaningful and relevant to the public.

The demand for greater citizen participation makes data visualization necessary. 

“By making data understandable through visualization, citizens will start to engage and start asking pertinent questions in order to make government and pertinent agencies accountable,” Rahemtulla added.

Previous efforts

Speakers at the breakout session also noted that open data initiative is not new in the national government. Similar initiatives in the past include the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub, BudgetngBayan and Full Disclosure Policy Portal (FDPP). 

According to research associate Joseh de Guia of Step UP Consulting services, experiences of local government units on open initiatives show varying results. 

Guia cited the experience in South Cotabato where procurement-related documents were the most viewed and downloaded by the public. On the other hand, the use of the FDPP in Bohol is limited to information relating to the local government budget. 

While the potential of open data initiatives paints an ideal picture, the speakers agreed that many of the desired outcomes have yet to be fulfilled. –

Raisa Serafica

Raisa Serafica is the Unit Head of Civic Engagement of Rappler. As the head of MovePH, Raisa leads the on ground engagements of Rappler aimed at building a strong community of action in the Philippines. Through her current and previous roles at Rappler, she has worked with different government agencies, collaborated with non-governmental organizations, and trained individuals mostly on using digital technologies for social good.